Some representations are better than others, as shown by research in cognitive psychology. One practical test of what comprises a good representation of, say, a journal article would be whether it allows one to give an impromptu speech on the topic in question, perhaps taking sides for or against a particular position. Here is a variety of kinds of alternative representations, arranged in (what experience suggests to be) approximate descending order of usefulness for a situation similar to giving an impromptu speech.
- Flow charts, often used by debators, are excellent tools for representing arguments in which there are initial positions, responses, and rejoinders.
- Maps can show not only how to get from place to place, but also from concept to concept.
- Structural models are a very sophisticated kind of graph useful for representing correlational and covariance structures.
- Graphs and tables can be used to integrate many different kinds of variables.
- Logical syllogisms and their associated Venn diagrams, the favorites of philosophers, have an important place in representing exact conceptual relationships.
- Hypertext networks allow users to traverse great bodies of information in the order of the users' interests. Such networks can be hierarchically organized, as in a tree, but numerous other possible organizations exist. Yielding information on an as-needed basis is this medium's strength.
- Tree diagrams are quite good for chunking information and representing it non-sequentially.
- Outlines are good for chuncking information and representing it sequentially.
- Questionnaires and exams can put abstract concepts into concrete form, but only provide data in need of explanation rather than explaining anything themselves.
- Lists are a bit better than text, but are probably only satisfactory if the number of items is equal to or less than the "magic number" seven plus or minus two.
- Text is almost never the optimal kind of representation if one cannot make continuous reference to the text, either by reading it or rehearsing it in memory.
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